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February 23, 2020

Mt 5: 38-48

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 

And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.

Called to loving action

As a child hearing today’s Gospel, my attention always focused mistakenly on Christ’s line, “An eye for an eye . . .,” rather than its main point about loving our enemies. I remember an interminable safety lecture from Sr. John Michael Richie, S.L., our first grade teacher, before our excited class was allowed to first take sharpened pencils in hand. Though Sister’s warnings underscored the ghastly outcome should we injure ourselves or another, the prospect of losing one’s eye seemed remote. I thought: “People in the Old Testament actually took out people’s eyes?! Whew! No wonder Jesus had to say something!”

In truth, “an eye for an eye,” illustrated the “law of retaliation” in the code of the Ancient Near East. It was meant to keep retaliation in check and encourage just proportionate response to aggression. Even with this tempered understanding of the text, however, Jesus is not satisfied, and neither should we be. Jesus’ message reminds us we are called not to mere passivity when facing an adversary, but to loving action. On the eve of Lent, the Gospel counsels that in seeking understanding in disagreement, in extending mercy to one with whom we quarrel, lies the means of true “perfection.”

—Fr. William T. Sheahan, SJ, is a Jesuit of the Central and Southern Province and serves as rector of the Rockhurst Jesuit Community in Kansas City, MO.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, you challenge me to love my enemies. I cannot love like this without your help. Unite me to your heart. Forgive me for labeling others an “enemy” simply out of disagreement or injured feelings. Expand my capacity for love and forgiveness. Grant me your compassion. Amen

—The Jesuit Prayer team


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February 22, 2020

Chair of St. Peter

Mt 16: 13-19

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.

Who are we?

Jesus’ question—“Who do you say that I am?”—has a straight-forward answer: “The Son of the living God.” As modern-day readers, it’s obvious. The question almost feels condescending, as though Jesus is checking in to make sure his followers have been paying attention.

But what if I put myself in the story as Jesus? What if I ask the question of my friends and family? How do they answer? Am I a father, husband, teacher, writer?

I’m ever mindful that this question of identity can be sliced in dozens of ways—even more so as we project images of ourselves across social media that may hardly resemble lived reality. Our answer may vary based on who we’re talking to.

Who do people say that we are really? The question, then, becomes less about the self-image we project and more about how we are received by, and how we treat others.   

—Eric Clayton is a senior communications manager at the Jesuit Conference.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, from the start
You invite ordinary people to come to where you live.
When they come, you welcome them
and call them to labor and rejoice with you.
You are the most beautiful among all men,
and I hardly believe you want me for your friend.
You are powerful, Lord.
Draw me more and more into your friendship
and lead me along the way you took with friends.

—Joseph Tetlow, SJ


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February 21, 2020

Jas 2: 14-24, 26

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” 

Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. 

Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.

Faith leading to action

The letter of James exhorts us to take action. Written in blunt language, the letter asks what use our faith is if that faith doesn’t lead to good given to those around us, especially those who are justly due that goodness. The letter, like a good poker player calling a bluff, demands that we show the liveliness of our faith in the good work we do.

In service of the good work we must do is discernment. God right now is acting to remake the world to share more fully in God’s goodness. So, discern! God is at work and wills you to join him. Pay attention to your desires: in what ways is God calling you to share your goodness with those in need around you?

James Kennedy, SJ, is a Jesuit of the Midwest Province teaching history at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee, WI.

Prayer

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

—Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ


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February 20, 2020

Jas 2: 1-9

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 

Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.

Holding up a mirror to our choices

Sometimes, the old-fashioned language and complex theological concepts of Scripture can make the Bible difficult to understand. Not so with the Letter of St. James, which has been appearing in the lectionary this week. I love the plain way James lays down the law, challenging his readers to treat those on the margins of society with honor and dignity. My initial response to today’s first reading was, “Right on, James. You tell those hypocrites who judge others based on wealth or appearance.” But I must hold up the passage as a mirror: How am I doing at loving the poor? Would James see my daily life choices and think I was living the Gospel? Am I really what Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ, called a “man for others”? Perhaps sometimes, but not as consistently as I’d like. I still waste food and money, I turn away from a beggar at the subway station. The challenge of St. James is a stark one for all of us.

—Mike Jordan Laskey is the Senior Communications Director of the Jesuit Conference in Washington DC and an alum of Contemplative Leaders in Action in Philadelphia.

Prayer

Loving God,

Help me to see your face in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the ill, the imprisoned.

When I’m tempted to think of myself as better than the poor, help me to imitate your special love for those who have been pushed to the peripheries of society.

Give me the zeal St. James had for lifting up my oppressed and beaten-down sisters and brothers. Give me the strength to work to change social structures that target the poor.

I pray this through Christ, Our Lord, amen.

—Mike Jordan Laskey


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February 19, 2020

MK 8:22-26

They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Then he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even go into the village.”

The Wisdom of the Horses

Just up the road live two horses, the male horse blind from an unfortunate accident. If nearby and listening, you will hear the sound of a bell. Looking around for the source of the sound, you will see that it comes from the smaller horse in the field. Attached to her halter is a small bell that lets her blind friend know where she grazes and moves throughout the field.

As you stand and watch these two friends, you will see how she is always checking on him; he will listen for her bell and then slowly walk to where she is — trusting that she will not lead him astray. When the mare returns to the barn’s shelter each evening, she stops occasionally and looks back, making sure her friend is not too far behind to hear the bell. (source unknown)

In the gospel account, we experience Jesus moving the blind man forward with great sensitivity. Twice Jesus must touch his eyes to bring forth the miracle of sight. When the man begins his new life in the village, how will his extraordinary moments with Jesus shape his life? Will he go forth empowered with profound gratitude and a greater yearning to serve?

Will the vividness of color and the endearment of seeing the expressions of those he cherishes grow commonplace? Will he be like the sweet horse ready to share the gentle sound of the bell or might he forget the stumbles and embarrassments and charge ahead focused on self?

In our own ways, Jesus has restored sight to us. We know it. And we must act on it. Wear your bell today. Someone needs to hear it.

—The Jesuit Prayer Team

Prayer

Lord, grant that I may see you more clearly,

love you more dearly,

and follow you more nearly,

day by day.

St. Ignatius Loyola


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February 18, 2020

Mk 8: 14-21

Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out—beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” They said to one another, “It is because we have no bread.” And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? 

When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” And they said to him, “Seven.” Then he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.

Being Attentive to God

Too often in prayer, I find myself doing all the talking and thinking, leaving little, if any, space for God to get a word in edgewise! Sometimes I even forget that God is there at all!

Jesus’ disciples in the Gospel today seem to have the same issue. They talk among themselves to try to figure things out, rather than focusing on what Jesus is saying and doing right in front of them.

In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius tells us that before we begin our prayer, we should take a moment to consider how God is present to us right now. In other words, our attention should be, first and foremost, on God.

Maybe the invitation for us today is to pause our own thinking and talking so we can be attentive to God, so we can see and hear what God is feeling and desiring for us.

—Thomas Bambrick, SJ, is a Jesuit scholastic of the Midwest Province studying at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University in Berkeley, CA.

Prayer

Loving and ever-present God,
help us be attentive to you today,
so that we may live in your love
in all we are and do.

—Thomas Bambrick


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February 17, 2020

Jas 1: 1-11

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. 

But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field. 

For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. It is the same way with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.

New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.

What we receive from the Lord

James cautions against doubt and testing. The Pharisees seemed to exasperate Jesus with their questions and agendas. Yikes! How often, if I am speaking to God honestly, does doubt surface in me?  “I’ll give you my all, God, except I really need this to work out my way so I’ll just….”

I recall a core maxim of Ignatian spirituality: to see God in all things.  But I can zip through the day harried and oblivious to what God has given that day, even my very breath and heartbeat.   But St. Ignatius has a brilliant plan: the Examen. At day’s end, and perhaps at midday, he suggests reviewing the day with gratitude, recalling specific events.   What am I grateful for? What do I regret? What do I want to savor? And…. what do I ask of God? In doing this, I have been gifted with a growing relationship of love and trust.

—Donna K. Becher, M.S.  is an associate spiritual director intern at the West Virginia Institute for Spirituality, Charleston, West Virginia.  Her training is rooted in the Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Prayer

Lord, grant that I may see you more clearly,
love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly,
day by day.

St. Ignatius of Loyola (Spiritual Exercises #104)


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February 16, 2020

1 Cor 2: 6-10

Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,

   nor the human heart conceived,

what God has prepared for those who love him’—

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.

New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.

Seeing with new eyes

A few years ago, I went for my annual eye exam. The optical technician handed me a card with very small print and asked me to read it. Even squinting, I struggled to make out the letters, prompting the technician to ask me gently, “Soooo, do you think it’s time for progressive lenses?”

The physical sense of sight is often associated with qualities such as knowledge or wisdom. In this weekend’s second reading from St. Paul, we hear him admonish the Corinthian Christians for failing to “see.” Turns out, the Corinthians had come to believe that depending on which minister of Christ had baptized each of them, respectively, they now possessed enhanced “wisdom” or “knowledge.” Ironically, their false understanding of baptism, the sacrament of unity in Christ, had resulted in them breaking into factions. With each faction boasting of special knowledge, all now failed to “see.”

Paul reminds them, and us, that it is not by worldly wisdom or knowledge that we are saved, but by embracing our weakness and humility in choosing to accept Christ’s invitation to share his cross. Quoting the prophet Isaiah, Paul writes: “Eye has not seen … what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2: 9). Borrowing from St. Ignatius of Loyola, we pray for the ability to “see with new eyes,” that is, the eyes of faith whereby God might transform our selfish pride to humble acceptance of God’s goodness, but without God’s help we cannot see.

—Fr. William T. Sheahan, SJ, is a Jesuit of the Central and Southern Province serving as rector of the Rockhurst Jesuit Community in Kansas City, MO.

Prayer

Eye has not seen,ear has not heard
what God has ready for those who love him;
Spirit of love, come give us the mind of Jesus,
teach us the wisdom of God.

—Refrain of Eye Has Not Seen by Marty Haugen, © 1982, GIA Publications, Inc.


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February 15, 2020

St. Claude de la Colombiere, SJ

Mk 8: 1-10

In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way—and some of them have come from a great distance.” 

His disciples replied, “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?” He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. 

They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.

New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.

Working with whatever little we have

It’s easy to imagine this scene: being in the hungry, approaching crowd, feeling famished and needing new life; or feeling like one of the bewildered disciples, doubting and questioning what Jesus wants to do.  

The disciples respond to Jesus in their timeless, disciple-like way: “How?” Can one feed 4,000 with seven loaves and a few fish? Their answer is clear and they see it: there are too many people and they don’t have enough.

This is a miracle story. Not a magic, hocus-pocus miracle but a relationship-response miracle. It’s a miracle story about our faith, something we can’t always see or believe: our faith in God and God’s faith in us.

We hold a miracle of faith in our hands, a relationship with a God who calls us to respond. God, who works with whatever little we have, believes we have enough, that we, as followers of Jesus, are more than enough. With us, and with God, all things are possible.

What has God blessed, broken and given for me to share with all?

Do I sense that I have enough? That I am enough?

—Carla Orlando coordinates Spiritual Direction Services for the Ignatian Spirituality Center in Seattle.

Prayer

Love consists in sharing
what one has
and what one is
with those one loves.

Love is showing itself in deeds
more than in words.

—St. Ignatius of Loyola


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February 14, 2020

Sts. Cyril and Methodius

Mk 7: 31-37

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 

Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.

Stretched outside our comfort zones

If we read today’s Gospel closely there appears to be a contradiction: to the deaf and mute man Jesus cries out “Ephphatha” or ”be opened”, then tells him not to tell anyone.  We hear that response often from Jesus to those whom he has healed. What are we to make of this? In all of our lives in some way Jesus calls us to “be opened”, to stretch, to reach out of our comfort zones and find him. We also in doing so are called to make sure we are achieving God’s purpose, not ours. 

Saints Cyril and his brother Methodius, whose feast day is today, stepped out of monastery life to translate the Gospels, the psalter, Paul’s letters and the liturgical books into Slavonic, and composed a Slavonic liturgy.  Yes, my family name is translated to “Christmas” in Slovak! In what way in Jesus asking you and me to “be open” and led to a new, unknown and perhaps uncomfortable place?  

—Jim Bozik is a permanent deacon at St. Peter Catholic Church in Charlotte, NC, the Jesuit parish in the Diocese of Charlotte.

Prayer

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.

And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ


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February 23, 2020

Mt 5: 38-48

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 

And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.

Called to loving action

As a child hearing today’s Gospel, my attention always focused mistakenly on Christ’s line, “An eye for an eye . . .,” rather than its main point about loving our enemies. I remember an interminable safety lecture from Sr. John Michael Richie, S.L., our first grade teacher, before our excited class was allowed to first take sharpened pencils in hand. Though Sister’s warnings underscored the ghastly outcome should we injure ourselves or another, the prospect of losing one’s eye seemed remote. I thought: “People in the Old Testament actually took out people’s eyes?! Whew! No wonder Jesus had to say something!”

In truth, “an eye for an eye,” illustrated the “law of retaliation” in the code of the Ancient Near East. It was meant to keep retaliation in check and encourage just proportionate response to aggression. Even with this tempered understanding of the text, however, Jesus is not satisfied, and neither should we be. Jesus’ message reminds us we are called not to mere passivity when facing an adversary, but to loving action. On the eve of Lent, the Gospel counsels that in seeking understanding in disagreement, in extending mercy to one with whom we quarrel, lies the means of true “perfection.”

—Fr. William T. Sheahan, SJ, is a Jesuit of the Central and Southern Province and serves as rector of the Rockhurst Jesuit Community in Kansas City, MO.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, you challenge me to love my enemies. I cannot love like this without your help. Unite me to your heart. Forgive me for labeling others an “enemy” simply out of disagreement or injured feelings. Expand my capacity for love and forgiveness. Grant me your compassion. Amen

—The Jesuit Prayer team


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February 22, 2020

Chair of St. Peter

Mt 16: 13-19

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.

Who are we?

Jesus’ question—“Who do you say that I am?”—has a straight-forward answer: “The Son of the living God.” As modern-day readers, it’s obvious. The question almost feels condescending, as though Jesus is checking in to make sure his followers have been paying attention.

But what if I put myself in the story as Jesus? What if I ask the question of my friends and family? How do they answer? Am I a father, husband, teacher, writer?

I’m ever mindful that this question of identity can be sliced in dozens of ways—even more so as we project images of ourselves across social media that may hardly resemble lived reality. Our answer may vary based on who we’re talking to.

Who do people say that we are really? The question, then, becomes less about the self-image we project and more about how we are received by, and how we treat others.   

—Eric Clayton is a senior communications manager at the Jesuit Conference.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, from the start
You invite ordinary people to come to where you live.
When they come, you welcome them
and call them to labor and rejoice with you.
You are the most beautiful among all men,
and I hardly believe you want me for your friend.
You are powerful, Lord.
Draw me more and more into your friendship
and lead me along the way you took with friends.

—Joseph Tetlow, SJ


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February 21, 2020

Jas 2: 14-24, 26

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” 

Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. 

Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.

Faith leading to action

The letter of James exhorts us to take action. Written in blunt language, the letter asks what use our faith is if that faith doesn’t lead to good given to those around us, especially those who are justly due that goodness. The letter, like a good poker player calling a bluff, demands that we show the liveliness of our faith in the good work we do.

In service of the good work we must do is discernment. God right now is acting to remake the world to share more fully in God’s goodness. So, discern! God is at work and wills you to join him. Pay attention to your desires: in what ways is God calling you to share your goodness with those in need around you?

James Kennedy, SJ, is a Jesuit of the Midwest Province teaching history at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee, WI.

Prayer

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

—Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ


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February 20, 2020

Jas 2: 1-9

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 

Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.

Holding up a mirror to our choices

Sometimes, the old-fashioned language and complex theological concepts of Scripture can make the Bible difficult to understand. Not so with the Letter of St. James, which has been appearing in the lectionary this week. I love the plain way James lays down the law, challenging his readers to treat those on the margins of society with honor and dignity. My initial response to today’s first reading was, “Right on, James. You tell those hypocrites who judge others based on wealth or appearance.” But I must hold up the passage as a mirror: How am I doing at loving the poor? Would James see my daily life choices and think I was living the Gospel? Am I really what Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ, called a “man for others”? Perhaps sometimes, but not as consistently as I’d like. I still waste food and money, I turn away from a beggar at the subway station. The challenge of St. James is a stark one for all of us.

—Mike Jordan Laskey is the Senior Communications Director of the Jesuit Conference in Washington DC and an alum of Contemplative Leaders in Action in Philadelphia.

Prayer

Loving God,

Help me to see your face in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the ill, the imprisoned.

When I’m tempted to think of myself as better than the poor, help me to imitate your special love for those who have been pushed to the peripheries of society.

Give me the zeal St. James had for lifting up my oppressed and beaten-down sisters and brothers. Give me the strength to work to change social structures that target the poor.

I pray this through Christ, Our Lord, amen.

—Mike Jordan Laskey


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February 19, 2020

MK 8:22-26

They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Then he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even go into the village.”

The Wisdom of the Horses

Just up the road live two horses, the male horse blind from an unfortunate accident. If nearby and listening, you will hear the sound of a bell. Looking around for the source of the sound, you will see that it comes from the smaller horse in the field. Attached to her halter is a small bell that lets her blind friend know where she grazes and moves throughout the field.

As you stand and watch these two friends, you will see how she is always checking on him; he will listen for her bell and then slowly walk to where she is — trusting that she will not lead him astray. When the mare returns to the barn’s shelter each evening, she stops occasionally and looks back, making sure her friend is not too far behind to hear the bell. (source unknown)

In the gospel account, we experience Jesus moving the blind man forward with great sensitivity. Twice Jesus must touch his eyes to bring forth the miracle of sight. When the man begins his new life in the village, how will his extraordinary moments with Jesus shape his life? Will he go forth empowered with profound gratitude and a greater yearning to serve?

Will the vividness of color and the endearment of seeing the expressions of those he cherishes grow commonplace? Will he be like the sweet horse ready to share the gentle sound of the bell or might he forget the stumbles and embarrassments and charge ahead focused on self?

In our own ways, Jesus has restored sight to us. We know it. And we must act on it. Wear your bell today. Someone needs to hear it.

—The Jesuit Prayer Team

Prayer

Lord, grant that I may see you more clearly,

love you more dearly,

and follow you more nearly,

day by day.

St. Ignatius Loyola


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February 18, 2020

Mk 8: 14-21

Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out—beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” They said to one another, “It is because we have no bread.” And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? 

When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” And they said to him, “Seven.” Then he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.

Being Attentive to God

Too often in prayer, I find myself doing all the talking and thinking, leaving little, if any, space for God to get a word in edgewise! Sometimes I even forget that God is there at all!

Jesus’ disciples in the Gospel today seem to have the same issue. They talk among themselves to try to figure things out, rather than focusing on what Jesus is saying and doing right in front of them.

In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius tells us that before we begin our prayer, we should take a moment to consider how God is present to us right now. In other words, our attention should be, first and foremost, on God.

Maybe the invitation for us today is to pause our own thinking and talking so we can be attentive to God, so we can see and hear what God is feeling and desiring for us.

—Thomas Bambrick, SJ, is a Jesuit scholastic of the Midwest Province studying at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University in Berkeley, CA.

Prayer

Loving and ever-present God,
help us be attentive to you today,
so that we may live in your love
in all we are and do.

—Thomas Bambrick


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February 17, 2020

Jas 1: 1-11

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. 

But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field. 

For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. It is the same way with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.

New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.

What we receive from the Lord

James cautions against doubt and testing. The Pharisees seemed to exasperate Jesus with their questions and agendas. Yikes! How often, if I am speaking to God honestly, does doubt surface in me?  “I’ll give you my all, God, except I really need this to work out my way so I’ll just….”

I recall a core maxim of Ignatian spirituality: to see God in all things.  But I can zip through the day harried and oblivious to what God has given that day, even my very breath and heartbeat.   But St. Ignatius has a brilliant plan: the Examen. At day’s end, and perhaps at midday, he suggests reviewing the day with gratitude, recalling specific events.   What am I grateful for? What do I regret? What do I want to savor? And…. what do I ask of God? In doing this, I have been gifted with a growing relationship of love and trust.

—Donna K. Becher, M.S.  is an associate spiritual director intern at the West Virginia Institute for Spirituality, Charleston, West Virginia.  Her training is rooted in the Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Prayer

Lord, grant that I may see you more clearly,
love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly,
day by day.

St. Ignatius of Loyola (Spiritual Exercises #104)


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February 16, 2020

1 Cor 2: 6-10

Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,

   nor the human heart conceived,

what God has prepared for those who love him’—

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.

New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.

Seeing with new eyes

A few years ago, I went for my annual eye exam. The optical technician handed me a card with very small print and asked me to read it. Even squinting, I struggled to make out the letters, prompting the technician to ask me gently, “Soooo, do you think it’s time for progressive lenses?”

The physical sense of sight is often associated with qualities such as knowledge or wisdom. In this weekend’s second reading from St. Paul, we hear him admonish the Corinthian Christians for failing to “see.” Turns out, the Corinthians had come to believe that depending on which minister of Christ had baptized each of them, respectively, they now possessed enhanced “wisdom” or “knowledge.” Ironically, their false understanding of baptism, the sacrament of unity in Christ, had resulted in them breaking into factions. With each faction boasting of special knowledge, all now failed to “see.”

Paul reminds them, and us, that it is not by worldly wisdom or knowledge that we are saved, but by embracing our weakness and humility in choosing to accept Christ’s invitation to share his cross. Quoting the prophet Isaiah, Paul writes: “Eye has not seen … what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2: 9). Borrowing from St. Ignatius of Loyola, we pray for the ability to “see with new eyes,” that is, the eyes of faith whereby God might transform our selfish pride to humble acceptance of God’s goodness, but without God’s help we cannot see.

—Fr. William T. Sheahan, SJ, is a Jesuit of the Central and Southern Province serving as rector of the Rockhurst Jesuit Community in Kansas City, MO.

Prayer

Eye has not seen,ear has not heard
what God has ready for those who love him;
Spirit of love, come give us the mind of Jesus,
teach us the wisdom of God.

—Refrain of Eye Has Not Seen by Marty Haugen, © 1982, GIA Publications, Inc.


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February 15, 2020

St. Claude de la Colombiere, SJ

Mk 8: 1-10

In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way—and some of them have come from a great distance.” 

His disciples replied, “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?” He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. 

They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.

New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.

Working with whatever little we have

It’s easy to imagine this scene: being in the hungry, approaching crowd, feeling famished and needing new life; or feeling like one of the bewildered disciples, doubting and questioning what Jesus wants to do.  

The disciples respond to Jesus in their timeless, disciple-like way: “How?” Can one feed 4,000 with seven loaves and a few fish? Their answer is clear and they see it: there are too many people and they don’t have enough.

This is a miracle story. Not a magic, hocus-pocus miracle but a relationship-response miracle. It’s a miracle story about our faith, something we can’t always see or believe: our faith in God and God’s faith in us.

We hold a miracle of faith in our hands, a relationship with a God who calls us to respond. God, who works with whatever little we have, believes we have enough, that we, as followers of Jesus, are more than enough. With us, and with God, all things are possible.

What has God blessed, broken and given for me to share with all?

Do I sense that I have enough? That I am enough?

—Carla Orlando coordinates Spiritual Direction Services for the Ignatian Spirituality Center in Seattle.

Prayer

Love consists in sharing
what one has
and what one is
with those one loves.

Love is showing itself in deeds
more than in words.

—St. Ignatius of Loyola


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February 14, 2020

Sts. Cyril and Methodius

Mk 7: 31-37

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 

Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.

Stretched outside our comfort zones

If we read today’s Gospel closely there appears to be a contradiction: to the deaf and mute man Jesus cries out “Ephphatha” or ”be opened”, then tells him not to tell anyone.  We hear that response often from Jesus to those whom he has healed. What are we to make of this? In all of our lives in some way Jesus calls us to “be opened”, to stretch, to reach out of our comfort zones and find him. We also in doing so are called to make sure we are achieving God’s purpose, not ours. 

Saints Cyril and his brother Methodius, whose feast day is today, stepped out of monastery life to translate the Gospels, the psalter, Paul’s letters and the liturgical books into Slavonic, and composed a Slavonic liturgy.  Yes, my family name is translated to “Christmas” in Slovak! In what way in Jesus asking you and me to “be open” and led to a new, unknown and perhaps uncomfortable place?  

—Jim Bozik is a permanent deacon at St. Peter Catholic Church in Charlotte, NC, the Jesuit parish in the Diocese of Charlotte.

Prayer

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.

And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ


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